Some sources say this serious deficiency is pandemic. Chances are over 50-50 that you have it and it is adversely affecting your health! It affects all ages, racial and ethnic groups, and both genders. But be of good cheer! It’s usually easily solved.
Winter is coming and many of us will spend time at home, away from work or other pursuits feeling stuffy, feverish, “flu-ish” and generally awful.
Let me share one sure-fire way to increase your immunity to disease, improve your overall health and even develop a tool against serious chronic diseases. One that you may want to consider implementing now. And it’s not the flu shot which has exhibited a miserable record!
It’s simply vitamin D3.
It’s estimated that about 1 billion people worldwide don’t get enough of this vitamin.
Optimal vitamin D intake and increased blood levels are important not only for bone and calcium-phosphate metabolism but also for overall health and well-being. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency are a risk for a wide spectrum of acute and chronic illnesses. We will look at some recent scientific research that has revealed pertinent information that we can use today. Multiple well-structured studies have been done, more are being initiated.
In this article, we will address what causes this deficiency, how it affects you and what you can do safely and inexpensively to remedy this challenge. I’ll also share briefly my own step by step journey to reach an optimal D level.
THE BLOOD TEST
First, visit your doctor and say you’d like to have your vitamin D3 levels checked. Doctors are usually agreeable to this request. The blood test is called, Vitamin D-25Hydroxy/Calciderol (VIT D-25-OH-D). There is no fasting required and it is usually covered by insurance every three months for a period of time.
Ask your doctor or lab to have a copy of the report sent to you to keep in your personal medical records at home. One will automatically be sent to the doctor’s office. The “reference range” for D3 is 30-100 ng.mL (ng. is nanograms) Labs can vary slightly on reference range parameters.
- A level over 100 ng. mL is too high and could cause an accumulation of calcium in the blood. This, “hyperkalemia”, can create nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness and urinary frequency and more serious problems. But a reading of over 100 ng.mL is rare indeed!
Safety Factors: Do not be surprised if your reading is low. Most people have low readings unless they:
- Live in a tropical or sunny region where sun exposure is high.
- They have been taking therapeutic doses of D3 on a regular basis.
- Spend a lot of time outdoors with at least their arms and legs exposed to the sunshine.
- Dark skin. Dark skin doesn’t react as strongly to sunshine as does lighter skin, so it produces less vitamin D.
- Increased Age – Older individuals tend to have much lower levels of vitamin D3.
- Overweight or obese. Here is an excellent abstract from PubMed. Vitamin D and obesity: current perspectives and future directions.
- Live far from the equator, especially in climates where there are fewer hours of daylight.
- Sunscreen use. You always wear sunscreen when outside.
- Mother’s vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy.
A baby born to a mother with severe vitamin D deficiency can be born with signs of rickets (soft bones) or develop them within a few months after birth. It is important for a woman who is planning a pregnancy to build her D3 levels BEFORE pregnancy.
Do not take additional D3 during pregnancy without your doctor’s knowledge and approval other than what is in a prenatal vitamin supplement.
Maternal vitamin D deficiency is increasing rapidly in some areas of the world.
Vitamin D is Absolutely Vital for Optimal Health
Right now there is increased attention around the world on the importance of vitamin D3 and its abilities to positively affect health and prevent disease. The reason for this focus is mostly because of the discovery that vitamin D receptors are present in almost every cell in the body thus making adequate vitamin D levels vital to the optimal functioning of the tissues and cells in the human body! Pretty cool discovery!
What is “Reference Range”?
To strengthen your immunity now against acute and chronic illnesses and in time for the coming cold and flu season it is imperative to raise your vitamin D3 levels nearer to the top of ‘reference range’.
Of course, you want your reading to be “optimal”. My blood level of 30 ng.mL was not optimal to me, although it was within normal “reference range” of 30 ng/mL to 100 ng/mL.
If your doctors tell you that 30ng is fine just say you’d like to bring the level up to a more optimal level and they most likely will be happy to work with help you reach your goal.
I liken this to taking a school test. You take the test. You get a D-. Okay you passed but wouldn’t it be more advantageous to your grade point average if you had gotten, say a B+ or even a C? This may not be an exact analogy but you get the idea. Later we’ll discuss advantages that higher D3 levels may contribute to your overall health.
In 2010, the National Academy of Medicine upped the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D to 600 IU a day for adults, up from a (ludicrous) 200 IU – and set a “tolerable upper level” of 4,000 IU. (IU=international units)
I am NOT recommending a specific dosage to anyone BUT I can share my own D3 experience. You will see that I was taking a higher dose, but there is a medical precedent.
My Experience with Reaching a More Optimal Vitamin D3 Level.
I had my (VIT D-25-OH-D) level drawn about 3 years ago. As I said, it was around 30 ng. It was not “optimal”, at least to me, so after some research and talking with my doctor I began taking 4000 IU of D3 twice a day for 3 months. That is a much higher dose than is usual but studies support this dose. After three months the D3 level was tested again. It had risen to a good range of 55 ng. That was a big increase. The doctor thought that was great but agreed that staying with that regimen would be okay. During the next 3 month period I continued taking 4000 IU twice a day and in three months the D3 level was up to just above (75 ng. /mL). Then I went on a maintenance dose of 1000 IU’s once a day still checking levels at 3-6 month intervals. I usually rest now at about 80 nanograms. I’m fine with that.
My protocol may not be right for you. It’s important to work with your doctor and monitor progress with periodic blood level checks.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble substance:
Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin it leaves the body’s fat cells more slowly ( mainly excreted in the bile) than water-based substances which exit the body through the kidneys. However, since some parts of vitamin D are metabolized to more water-soluble compounds, some vitamin D metabolites are excreted by the kidneys as well.
But unlike water-soluble vitamins that promptly exit the body and need to be consumed via food or supplement daily, you can pause from taking vitamin D and take a maintenance dose or no dose at all for a period of time. There is an upper limit to the range that you do not want to exceed. That is 100 ng .mL. My goal was to achieve a level at or nearer to 75-80 ng. Each person’s results may vary but will be better than when the process started.
When my doctor saw my levels on the rise he decided to have his own levels tested and followed that same protocol I had put myself on with his knowledge and agreement.
I think he just needed to take the time to do what he already knew would be helpful in increasing his own immunity to a wide variety of diseases. Isn’t that what we all do at times? We know we should do this or that but somehow just don’t find the time to follow through.
A Few Good Things to Know.
- Any fat-soluble vitamin (A, D, E, and K) should be taken with the fattiest meal of the day for best absorption.
- Some doctors may recommend daily vitamin D3 dosages in the amount of 4,000 IU to 10,000 IU. And, if you’re very low, you may need that – for a short period of time – until the deficiency is resolved under your doctor’s guidance.
- If you have compromised kidneys do NOT take vitamin D unless prescribed by your medical doctor.
Is Vitamin K2 needed for D3 absorption?
This seems to be the big question lately. There are ongoing studies I am keeping my eye on about the value of taking vitamin K2 in conjunction with vitamin D3 to increase absorption. At this point, it does not appear that studies support added vitamin K2 to enhance absorption so there is no need to spend the extra money.
What Scientific Studies are Saying about Specific Diseases and D3
There have been quite a few D3 studies over the last 10 to 15 years that have revealed very interesting outcomes. More studies are ongoing. But the correlation between inadequate D3 levels and various serious chronic diseases and common illnesses bears close observation. I will mention several of those trial conclusions below.
For information regarding vitamin D3 and upper respiratory tract infections in children check out this short informative abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27178217
New Studies are Encouraging
More recent studies have found that Vitamin D is closely associated with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, and others. Many experts now believe that vitamin D should be considered a hormone rather than one of the conventional nutritional vitamins.
Vitamin D3 is utilized by every cell in our body so if we can easily and safely provide optimal levels, lets’ do it. In one overview of diseases from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), they discussed conditions that may be helped by having optimal D3 levels. This is a short excerpt:
“Adequate vitamin D status seems to be protective against musculoskeletal disorders (muscle weakness, falls, fractures), infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular disease, type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus, several types of cancer, neurocognitive dysfunction and mental illness, and other diseases, as well as infertility and adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes. Vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency is associated with all-cause mortality.”
To me that’s pretty impressive……the possibility of decreased pharmaceuticals with their adverse effects would be a welcome event for just about everyone!
Symptoms of low vitamin D can be subtle and may easily go undiagnosed. Often times the chronic diseases mentioned above are not even associated with D deficiency because these studies are so recent.
Foods that Increase Vitamin D3
Only a few foods contain vitamin D3
- Beef liver (small amounts)
- Cheese (natural, not processed)
- Egg yolks (small amounts)
- Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. (But I wouldn’t recommend tuna because of the greatly increased toxicity in the waters off the California coast due to the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan)
- Some cereals, milk, yogurt and orange juice but these are not naturally occurring. They are “enriched” foods.
As you can see most of the food sources of vitamin D are animal-based therefore vegans can be more prone to this deficiency.
It is difficult to get enough vitamin D3 into our bodies unless we take a good single D3 supplement ….. and enough of it. I have never seen a multivitamin that provides an adequate supply of this very necessary ingredient to actually build to a good level. I have heard that the FDA originally came up with the small 200 IU dose to prevent rickets.
The safest and most economical way to make sure you are getting adequate vitamin D3 is to take it by mouth. Recent data indicate that vitamin D3 is substantially more potent than vitamin D2 and that the safe upper intake level for vitamin D3 is 10,000 IU per day. That is a large jump from just a few years ago. This 10,000 IU per day would be only with a doctor’s supervision.
Synthesizing vitamin D from the Sun
Of course spending at least 20 minutes a day outdoors in the sunshine, when possible, with as much skin exposure as climate warrants, is great since vitamin D can be produced out of the cholesterol in the skin when it is exposed to the suns’ UV rays. Many people think that anytime they are outside in the sun, they are going to produce Vitamin D. Not so. Here’s the scoop.
Those UVB rays are at their peak when the sun is high overhead. As the sun begins to leave its zenith the UVB rays decrease because they are blocked gradually by the atmosphere as the sun moves from overhead closer to the horizon.
If the sun is low enough those UVB rays are completely blocked by the atmosphere from reaching the earth and so vitamin D synthesis can’t happen. For optimal natural vitamin D production, soak up the sunshine sometime between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (depending on your locale) Limit the exposure to 20 minutes — as much bare skin as is appropriate, and of course, don’t use sunscreen for that time.
Possible signs of Vitamin D3 Deficiency
Depression is associated with low vitamin D levels and some studies have found that supplementing improves mood. “More studies are needed”
This makes sense because in people with S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) a disorder that causes a depressed mood during the darker winter months, light therapy—or phototherapy is used. This consists of exposure to daylight or to specific wavelengths of light. Our skin naturally contains a precursor to vitamin D. So when the sun’s ultraviolet rays touch our skin, they convert the precursor to vitamin D3.
2. LOWERED IMMUNITY
Do you find yourself fighting colds and flu all season? Does your cough last longer than is usual after being ill? Are you tired all the time, fatigued, worn out, weary, sapped of energy?
It could very well be that your D3 level needs boosting. So get that D3 level blood test done and do something about building yourself up. One of the most common symptoms of deficiency is an increased risk of illness and infection.
But don’t just rely on D3! Eat better….lots of green leafy vegetable, citrus fruits…any fruit. Decrease chemical stimulants. Get the sleep your body needs to recover from the stresses of the day. Be kind to everyone…that really does make a difference in your level of physical well-being because your emotions can produce hormones and body chemicals that affect how you feel and think. Negativity can drain your energy and stamina.
3. BACK AND BONE PAIN
“Vitamin D has a significant role to play in bone metabolism and neuromuscular function”. Several researchers have indicated that Vitamin D deficiency may be possibly related to chronic musculoskeletal pain including chronic low back pain. The conclusion reads in part, “Clinical guidelines for managing CLBP should include assessment of vitamin D status, together with advice on appropriate vitamin D supplementation in those found to be deficient.” For more information about this controlled study click the URL: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26431139
This was the conclusion of another study: “Hypovitaminosis D was related to back pain, to its severity, and to difficulty in performing daily activities.” This study was done with older women.
So the general take-away might be that low levels of vitamin D3 may contribute to back pain.
4. GROWING PAINS IN CHILDREN: (MUSCLE PAIN)
The purpose of this study was to evaluate the efficacy of vitamin D treatment on children who had growing pains. Of the 120 children in this study 104 (86.6 %) had vitamin D insufficiency. A significant proportion!
CONCLUSION: Supplementation with oral vitamin D resulted in a significant reduction in pain intensity among these children with growing pains who had hypovitaminosis D. (very low-level vitamin D)
5. COMPROMISED WOUND HEALING
“This study suggests that supplementation of vitamin D may be an important step to improve wound healing and regeneration in patients with a vitamin D deficiency”. 2016
WHAT NEW SCIENTIFIC STUDIES ARE SAYING
Multiple early studies provide a beneficial outlook on the progression of new findings in the role of vitamin D. Briefly here are a few of those results.
1. Helps with Lung Function: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21297070
The conclusion of this study is encouraging for people suffering from COPD. In part, it states that “Vitamin D deficiency causes deficits in lung function that are primarily explained by differences in lung volume. This study is the first to provide direct mechanistic evidence linking vitamin D deficiency and lung development, which may explain the association between obstructive lung disease and vitamin D status”.
2. Diabetes: Regulate insulin levels and aid diabetes management
There was an interesting study out of Finland as early as 2006 that stated, “…a statistical error in the estimation of the correct doses set as recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D was recently discovered and significantly higher doses would be required”. They went ahead and suggested this could lead to a recommendation of 1000 IU for children <1 year on enriched formula and 1500 IU for breastfed children older than 6 months, 3000 IU for children >1 year of age, and around 8000 IU for young adults and thereafter….. “Actions are urgently needed to protect the global population from vitamin D deficiency”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28768407
This second study concludes with, “What is remarkable is just how many cellular processes are maintained by Vitamin D. When Vitamin D is deficient, many of these processes begin to decline and this sets the stage for the onset of diseases such as diabetes.
3. CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE
An abstract, Korean J Intern Med. 2016. in part, has this to say:
“It has also been determined that vitamin D actively participates in the cardiovascular system, influencing blood pressure, coronary artery disease and other vascular diseases, such as heart failure and atrial fibrillation”.
The studies are ongoing and more are needed to reach conclusive findings. Even so, the preliminary results look promising. Pass the salmon, please!
4) MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
According to research presented at the 2018 Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, “Vitamin D may play a protective role in patients with either primary or secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.”
Five different studies have predicted a favorable vitamin D effect reducing relapses by 50-70%. There is little doubt that vitamin D exerts a beneficial action on the inflammatory component of MS, but the results are as yet much less clear for the progressive degenerative component and no studies are needed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28619429
Influence of vitamin D in the expression of genes involved in cancer development
Does Vitamin D Help Protect Against Cancer?
“High levels of vitamin D may be linked to a lower risk of developing some cancers”…. “Some research studies have also found connections between vitamin D levels in a person’s blood and their cancer risk”.
If you or a loved one is battling cancer or if cancer runs in your family this brief article on PubMed is a must-read. Further studies are needed but the research is encouraging at this point. The article was published in March 2018. https://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20180308/does-vitamin-d-help-protect-against-cancer
Here is another 2017 abstract that may be of interest: https://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2017/08/can-vitamin-d-prevent-cancer/
Is There Consensus?
To be balanced let me include this report and one other study.
The Institute of Health (not NIH) has concluded in a 2010 report that: “ …the evidence for a benefit of vitamin D in bone health is compelling, but that for other conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, the evidence is inconclusive…..”
There is another study out of Denmark that although positive results were found in some cancers, other cancers had negative results.
Specifically, the researchers found that high vitamin D levels were linked with an increased risk of skin, prostate and blood cancers, and a decreased risk of lung cancer. Again, more studies are required.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has given grants for clinical trials. I have read 6 of those completely through and they are encouraging. In preparing to write this article I have read another 7 clinical trials dealing with various types of chronic inflammatory diseases and the effects of vitamin D supplementation on disease progression.
All were favorable but since this research, if relatively new more studies are needed. As you know, this is the way of early research. Many clinical studies investigating vitamin D supplementation, done over time, will produce results which may eventually evolve as a meaningful disease therapy.
There has always been controversy as science finds its way to an actionable conclusion. In the meantime, research continues at a fast pace all over the world and some exciting probabilities are emerging.
In the meantime, unless there is a medical reason for an individual (you) to avoid increased vitamin D intake you are still operating within the acceptable medical guidelines if you strive to have a D3 blood level within the reference range of 30 ng, to 100ng.
To reach your goals, if you are working with the guidance of your doctor who knows your medical history, you are acting in a responsible and safe way to increase your level. This action will go a long way to help protect your body against disease now, while we wait for the research world.
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